Transforming a neglected urban waterfront usually takes massive investments and years of wading through red tape. But a new project proves that it’s also possible to make meaningful changes on a DIY scale.
In an installation built along a barren shoreline in the Turkish city of Izmir, designers created a modular system of floating docks. Held afloat by plastic cubes, the simple wooden docks create new spaces to read, people-watch, fish, and pose for selfies with the water. They’re quick to build and can be arranged, Lego-like, in any configuration.
Before, the space was essentially empty–a thin strip of pavement next to the water in the space that was left behind when a highway was constructed.
“There’s a very boring pattern you see everywhere in all the shorelines of Turkish cities,” says architect Elif Ensari, who designed the docks with Gudjon Erlendsson and Can Sucuoğlu while lecturing at Izmir University of Economics. “There’s the sea, a step, the pavement, and then the highway. Everything is built around the highway.”
In part, that’s because the narrow promenade was created by road engineers, not designers. “The public space is just a left-out area from the road,” says Sucuoğlu. “Izmir’s shoreline is a perfect example of this–you have to cross a 12-lane highway to get to the sea. It creates this feeling that everything happens in a hierarchical way, and as a citizen, you have no way of getting involved.”
Last fall, the designers built a quick prototype of their idea, and installed it for 40 days. Because the docks were tied to the promenade, the city classified them as boats, meaning they didn’t need any special permits. They were so wildly popular that the city now hopes to make them permanent.
“We made kind of a strategic decision that we’d install the piece right in front of the Izmir Chamber of Commerce,” explains Sucuoğlu. “So every time they were looking down from their windows they would see the project. It was occupied all the time by many, many people, so it was very heavily used. Afterwards we went to talk with them, and they suggested that we create it in a bigger scale.”
Ultimately, the designers hope to put a catalog of parts online, so anyone in any city can download the plans and build their own modules. They see the project as an example of the “lighter-quicker-cheaper” philosophy becoming more common in urban planning.
“You usually don’t get a chance to test out designs in an urban setting because it’s done in a very top-down way, and it’s usually meant to be very permanent or undamageable, like a concrete bench no one can steal,” says Ensari. “The new philosophy gives the opportunity to test out these designs and make stuff quickly–you don’t worry about them being stolen or moved around.”
“We call it micro-urbanism,” adds Sucuoğlu. “Instead of one giant urbanist idea coming from the municipality, and a massive plan, it’s many small ideas that could make life better locally.”